ORPHANS WELCOMED WITH CHARITY AND TRUST IN DIVINE PROVIDENCE

At the end of each day, Eugene would write his personal journal and record some of the events of the day and his personal reactions. Today he gives thanks for the project of the orphanage which he and his uncle had established for the children left without families because of the recent cholera epidemics.

Although I am still not fully recovered, I could not refuse the appeals made to me to go and bless the temporary chapel and house for the cholera orphans. The liturgy went very well. After the blessing of the chapel and before beginning the Holy Sacrifice, I was content to address a few words to the large congregation to excuse myself for not having the strength to speak. These few words were accepted with a kind of gratitude precisely because of the efforts I had to make to express what I was feeling.
It was marvellous actually to find oneself in this fine building, put up within ten months since we came and blessed the first stone on the rocky slope. The work had been begun under the auspices of the chief pastor, to offer support to a dozen poor little orphans, and now I saw eighty of them in front of me, and in a few days another twenty are going to be welcomed with the same charity, and the same trust in divine Providence! After Mass, we went in procession all around the house to bless it.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 12 February 1837, EO XVIII

Eugene’s time in Marseilles would be marked by countless activities like this one as he tried to respond to the needs of the most abandoned.

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THE SENSITIVITY WHICH IS GIVEN ONLY TO THOSE WHO PROCLAIM JESUS CHRIST AND HIM CRUCIFIED

Eugene was a talented and successful preacher. The foundation of the Missionary Oblates aimed at preaching the Gospel to the most abandoned. In many of his writings we have come across texts insisting that the missionaries take special care of this ministry and ensure that it flows from the source of their personal and communitarian relationship with God.

In his diary, which was private, he regularly comments critically on some of the orators who came to Marseilles as itinerant preachers for occasional sermons. Eugene’s preaching standards were high and he had no time for the platitudes that were sometimes expressed.

In the evening, I went to hear Father Dufêtre’s sermon in St. Martin’s. He preached a sermon on religion that was not anything special. With his sonorous, strong voice one can understand how he can keep the promises he made to preach twice a day, even without risking the sacrifice of his life as he proclaimed he was ready to do for the good people of Marseilles, who must by now be used to hearing themselves flattered by every preacher who mounts a pulpit in Marseilles.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 12 February 1837, EO XVIII

A week later, a comment on another itinerant preacher

I went to M. Clerc’s sermon at St. Cannat’s. His discourse on human respect, more philosophical than Christian, could not have been understood by his audience, made up of good ladies and a small number of uninstructed men. God forbid that every preacher preached like that. It is not talent he is lacking in, nor logic, but the sensitivity, which is given only to men who proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified in a different way than the orators did in pagan Rome or Athens.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 19 February 1837, EO XVIII

What do people say about our preaching and charitable works – do they see us saying and doing things through the eyes of the crucified Savior?

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THE REASON IS THAT SOULS FEEL THE GOOD THAT HAS BEEN DONE THEM BY THE GREAT MINISTRY THAT HAS BEEN EXERCISED IN THEIR FAVOUR.

Eugene’s journal was where he recorded his personal reflections at the end of each day. His private entries give us an insight into who he really was. Today it is the founder and father-figure of the missionary family who rejoices in the success of two Oblate moments of evangelization.

Arrival on the one hand of Father Cuynat coming back from Arles where he preached the Forty Hours after the Fontvieille mission, and on the other hand of Father Hermitte and his companion coming back from Entraigues. One would have to hear the account these men give of what transpired in their missions! It brings tears of joy and tenderness.
The triumph of that cross that is so insulted in our days, the transports of gratitude from entire populations, first to God whom they glorify in the presence of all the inhabitants of the region, and then to the ministers of the mercy of their Saviour from whom they can never again be separated. It is a repetition of what we saw in our time and always with a fresh surprise.
Is it not a miracle that grace should form in a matter of weeks such strong bonds between people who have never seen each other before and who in all probability will not see each other again. The reason is that souls feel the good that has been done them by the great ministry that has been exercised in their favour.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 9 February 1837, EO XVIII

For 21 years the missionaries had been preaching the Gospel to the most abandoned of southern France, and the fruits were obvious. Today, over two hundred years later, people continue to feel the good brought about by the great ministry of the Mazenodian Family.

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THEATER CONSIDERED BY US ALL TOO JUSTLY AS THE TEMPLE OF THE DEVIL.

Two hundred years ago, when there was no electricity, radio nor television, it was the theaters and opera houses that provided public entertainment. In reality, the moral values portrayed by the majority of these performances were usually not in keeping with Gospel values, with marital infidelity and immorality topping the list. For this reason, the bishops of France never went to theatrical performances.

In this journal entry Eugene speaks of meeting the world-renowned composer and musician, Niccolo Paganini, and of refusing an invitation to the theater where he was to perform.

So as not to offend the good Billon, parish priest of St. Victor, I went to assist pontifically at the High Mass in his church. They performed the Cherubini Mass; the artists were determined to perform at their best, having as witness and judge of their ability the famous Paganini. This famous man had given two concerts in the city which had won him the praises he is accustomed to receive everywhere he makes heard his really magical violin. He did not fail to come and invite me in person. I was really happy to see so extraordinary a master, but I was obliged to disappoint him with a refusal motivated not simply by my state of health, but also by the just severity of our French practice which is opposed to a bishop appearing even for an innocuous concert in a theatre considered by us all too justly as the temple of the devil.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 5 February 1837, EO XVIII

We may be tempted to judge Eugene as being narrow-minded by today’s standards, but perhaps this text invites us to reflect on our own attitude and reaction to the Gospel values that the mass media constantly bombards us with today.

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THE EXTERNALS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE RELIGIOUS CEREMONY

Bishop Eugene reflected in his journal:

Funeral obsequies of Count Pagano, consul general of Sardinia, Knight of St. Maurice. His position as consul of Sardinia and Knight of St. Maurice, as well as the good turns he did me in his day, decided me to go and assist at his funeral liturgy and perform the absolution. I warned the family in advance by way of a very polite letter.
What was my astonishment, on arriving at St. Charles, the deceased’s parish, to learn that there would be no High Mass at the funeral although the poor deceased had made quite contrary arrangements. I reproached the person who came to make excuses to me in the family’s name, as it had undertaken with the cortege not to delay it overlong in the church, and to mark my disapproval of a complacency so strongly contrary to the spirit of the Church all the more expressly, I indicated that I would not be prepared to give the absolution as I had proposed.
This lesson must have gone home and the parish priest also will have learned that it is not opportune to lend oneself so easily to the scarcely religious caprices of families. It was the third example in succession of this kind of impiety, in the parish of St. Charles.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 4 February 1837, EO XVIII

Times seem not to have changed! How often we are asked to sacrifice the the true sacramental celebration in favor of the wedding reception venue or the convenience of the funeral directors.

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LISTENING TO THE CRY OF THE MOST ABANDONED IN CORSICA

In sending missionaries to Corsica, Eugene was responding to what he discerned to be the needs of the most abandoned.

Firstly, far too many of the priests in Corsica had received very poor academic and pastoral training and it was their parishioners who suffered as a result. The Oblates were sent to Ajaccio to rectify the situation, primarily by establishing a major seminary to assure a solid formation of the future priests.

The newly appointed Bishop of Ajaccio took advantage of this opportunity to insist that some of his priests go back to the seminary to receive a proper formation. In his private journal, Eugene reflects on how the Oblates cooperated with this:

Letter from Father Moreau from Ajaccio. Very satisfying news from the diocesan major seminary. The work there for the directors is excessive because of the large number of participants, but their perfect behaviour encourages and compensates the teachers.

The second group calling for a response were the poor village inhabitants of Corsica. The Oblates responded by establishing themselves in Vico and making this apostolic community a mission center from which they ministered to the population and went out to preach missions in the isolated villages. The Oblates who staffed the seminary would join the Vico community to participate in the missions during their breaks from the seminaries.

They are persevering with the plan of giving the mission in Ajaccio in French and Italian. All our Fathers will take part in it.

A third response came from the forthcoming priestly ordination of two young Oblates who were destined to become fine missionaries for the rest of their lives, one of them in Corsica. They were both below the canonical age for ordination and had had to apply for dispensations in order to receive an early ordination

Letter from Rome. Dispensation from age for our Brothers Rolleri and Bellon

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 1 February 1837, EO XVIII

Today that spirit continues as the Mazenodian Family continues to listen to the call of the “new poor” in our rapidly changing world.

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ENTHRALLED BY THE OBLATE CHARISM

Eugene recalls the second mission which the Oblates had ever preached , in Fuveau in September 1816 (See https://www.omiworld.org/lemma/suzanne-marius/ ) at which the young Marius Suzanne was present. He immediately understood the Oblate charism and wanted to participate in it in every way possible.

This man was one of the first fruits of our missions. He joined us during the one we were giving in Fuveau, where his family had their home, for he was born in Aix. Those who write his life will say that in a certain way he did his apprenticeship during that mission. The zeal that this dear child, then 16 or 17 years old, employed in the search for sinners who had the most need of our ministry, his assiduous attendance at all our exercises, his eagerness to approach us whose really excessive workload he wanted to lighten, no doubt earned him the grace of his vocation.
From that time, I was his confessor and since, his trust equalled the tenderness he inspired in me: neither the one nor the other are forgotten. However, he did not speak with me then about the plan the Lord was inspiring him with, and I for my part said nothing to him about the desire I had that he join us in our work. It was not long before his attraction made him want to come and live in our house; at that time, we had only the one in Aix. He spent some time there still without saying anything about his ulterior aims.
Finally, on the day we went for the Puget mission, [ed January 1818] near Fréjus, he opened his heart to me and, hugging me, he said: I am yours for always.
Who could have guessed at that time that I was destined to close his eyes in death! I think he was only eighteen years old. He spent fifteen years in the Congregation, Our Annales will say that he put them to very good use! May his memory always be held blessed among us, for he has truly earned the gratitude of the Church and the Congregation. And his death in our bosom was that of the just.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 31 January 1837, EO XVIII

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IN COMMUNION WITH THOSE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE US

The Constitutions and Rules of an approved group in the Church are that group’s way of expressing the Gospel according to their God-given charism. This is why they are often referred to as a “Rule of Life.” Eugene was convinced that all those who faithfully lived by the Rule, our Oblate expression of the Gospel, were in the fullness of the Kingdom of God after their deaths.

Sad anniversary of the death of our dear Father Suzanne. Yesterday, being a semi-double feast, I said a requiem mass for him. It was more to console my sorrow, and for the consolation of performing this solemn act of communion with the men who have gone before us, than with the thought that this blessed missionary, predestined in death, had any need of my prayers. I would say as much about all those I have seen die in the Congregation.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 31 January 1837, EO XVIII

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WORK ONLY FOR GOD, WALK UNCEASINGLY IN HIS PRESENCE

Eugene’s constantly repeated reminder: the success of any pastoral action depends on the quality of one’s relationship with God – otherwise we are mere functionaries and not disciples.

 I recommend you take it upon yourself to see that regularity is observed: oraison, examination of conscience, etc. Do not be men totally involved in exterior activities: let people not get the idea that you have no more than the prayer habits normal for a good priest. Such dissipation causes very great harm.
… Do not forget that you are missionaries by profession, and consequently you have a Rule to observe during missions which is proper for that period, foreseen beforehand, already lived out, in a word, familiar to each one of you. This applies also to your behaviour which must be serious and reserved.
…In a word, act in such manner as not only to do much good but also to leave behind you a true impression of sanctity. Otherwise people will say that you are only doing your job. You must be absolutely men of God, work only for God, walk unceasingly in his presence, edify from morning till night all those who deal with you or who surround you.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 20 January 1837, EO IX n 603

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OUR LOVE FOR THE CHURCH INSPIRES US TO FULFIL OUR MISSION IN COMMUNION WITH THE PASTORS WHOM THE LORD HAS GIVEN TO HIS PEOPLE

Eugene rejoices in the wonderful spiritual results of the missions that the Oblates were preaching in several towns. He reminds the members of his missionary family of the importance of being in communion with the local bishop, whose people they are ministering to.

I wanted you to know that I find it quite opportune that you give some details of the blessings the Lord is showering on your mission to His Grace the Archbishop. I do not doubt that you have done so in a good manner, that is, modestly, rightly attributing to God alone all the good that is being accomplished. It is normal to presume that a chief Pastor should insist much on knowing what is being accomplished by the ones he has sent, the ones to whom he has entrusted a special mission to bring a portion of his sheep to the knowledge of the faith, to the practice of virtue.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 20 January 1837, EO IX n 603

That spirit of communion continues today, as Constitution 6 stresses. All the service to the local church which the Mazenodian Family accomplishes must always be one of collaboration with all who are working for the Kingdom of God in the Church.

Our love for the Church inspires us to fulfil our mission in communion with the pastors whom the Lord has given to his people; we accept loyally, with an enlightened faith, the guidance and teachings of the successors of Peter and the Apostles.

We coordinate our missionary activity with the overall pastoral plan of the local Churches where we work, and we collaborate in a spirit of brotherhood with others who work for the Gospel. (OMI Rule of Life, C 6)

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